Up to a quarter of the home care workforce could be lost if vaccination becomes a condition of deployment, according to new research from the Homecare Association.
In a poll of 150 home care providers across England, almost a quarter (23%) warned they would lose 25% or more of their workforce if mandatory vaccination rules came into force, with a minority expecting the majority of their staff would leave.
Around a third of providers would expect to lose under 10% of their workforce, while 40% reported that they would lose between 10 and 24% of their staff.
Of those reporting that they would lose 25% or more of their workforce, all regions of England were represented apart from the South West. The North West, East of England and London were more strongly represented.
The majority (93%) of providers polled said it was ‘certain’ or ‘likely’ that recruitment will become harder if vaccination becomes a condition of deployment, and 84% thought they would need to dismiss staff as a result.
Research by the Homecare Association also found that 40% of providers had 90% or more of their workforce fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 42% had 75-89% of their workforce vaccinated and 16% had less than three-quarters of their workforce vaccinated, with some reporting levels in the 20% range.
Legislation requiring care home staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is set to come into force on November 11, and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed in September that further consultation is being held on whether to extend vaccination as a condition of deployment to healthcare settings, as well as across other social care settings.
This will also consider extending the condition to flu vaccination.
The Homecare Association has stressed that it strongly supports the vaccination of care workers, but it is concerned by the intention to legislate rather than persuade in the current recruitment environment.
CEO Dr Jane Townson explained: “We understand that people who use services and their families expect careworkers to be vaccinated. Vaccination is also desirable to help protect the health and safety of careworkers themselves.
“We are, however, warning of a risk of losing a quarter of our workforce, at a time when demand is rising and recruitment and retention are harder than ever. This creates a serious risk that homecare will not be available for tens of thousands of older and disabled people who are wholly reliant on support. Who will care for them?
“We feel it’s very important to balance the mitigated risk of infection with the risk of unavailability of care at home for highly dependent older and disabled people.”
Dr Townson said vaccination is a key line of defence against serious illness but was only ever part of a wider set of infection prevention and control measures.
She added: “During the first phase of COVID-19, when there was inadequate PPE, no routine testing and no vaccines, homecare workers kept people safe and deaths from COVID-19 of people at home were very much lower than those in care homes.
“Data suggest that vaccinated people may be able to spread the delta variant of COVID-19 as readily as unvaccinated people. Careworkers have thus continued to follow guidelines on PPE, regular testing, ventilation, cleaning and other IPC measures.
“Our belief is that persuasion will be more effective than compulsion at encouraging vaccination of those with genuine fears, without losing vital workforce capacity.”